Bernice L. McFadden is the author of six critically acclaimed novels, including the classic Sugar and Nowhere Is a Place, which was a Washington Post best fiction title for 2006. She is a two-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of two fiction honors from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA). McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she is working on her next novel.
In fact, this is my 5-star review for Sugar, written/posted on Amazon back in 2001:
SUGAR is one of the most engrossing novels that I have read in a long time. McFadden weaves a tale so vividly, the reader is easily transported into the storyline.
Move to 1955, where life in Bigelow seems to be normal, and Pearl has buried the pain of Jude’s death deep within her. That is, until a scandalously sexy and provocative woman waltzes into their small town, right next door to Pearl, creating rumors and upheavals with the women and gawking and lust with the men. Pearl is struck by the resemblance that Sugar has to her deceased child. Pearl and Sugar have their own personal demons that have plagued them, and this connection sparks a friendship between the odd couple. Through their friendship, and the unfolding of their painful paths, the women become more family than friends, but all is not glorious as the past looms over them, bringing pain, grief, and the reopening of old wounds.
McFadden writes with such beauty that it’s easy to get lost in the novel. The plot is full of drama and realism of the time period and will invoke anger and despair, hope and forgiveness in those who read it. The town, the people, the dialogue is so vivid, so realistic, that it’s easy to believe every account in the novel, even the truly painful.
SUGAR is an exquisite piece of literature, and it’s definitely deserving of being on every reader’s bookshelf.
The love I have for the book and for the author has not waned since then. Whenever anyone asks me to suggest a book that illustrates good writing, Sugar is the first book that falls from my lips.
After reading Sugar, I immediately contacted McFadden. I told her how much I enjoyed her book, and then I used her book as part of a paper I wrote on the depictions of black women in literature. And ever since, I have been enthralled with McFadden and her other works.
When it dawned on me that Sugar was about to celebrate its tenth year in publication, I knew I wanted to bring McFadden back. The book has a great new cover for its tenth anniversary, and McFadden has been working like crazy through various social media outlets to get 10,000 copies of Sugar in the hands of even MORE people by its tenth anniversary, which is THIS MONTH!
New tenth anniversary cover
I think it’s because it’s a beautiful story of friendship, struggle, love and survival – all things we know so well in our own lives.
Looking through your career as an author thus far, talk to us about how you’ve grown as a writer. What parts of your writer spirit has stayed tried and true, and which parts have grown or disappeared?
I want to say that for a very long time I fell under the influence of the “publishing business” and believed myself to be a “Black” writer. One day I asked myself exactly was does that mean? And I could find no satisfactory definition for that title. Along the same time, I had begun a story that included just one African-American character. When I was done with that story I realized that I was not a “Black” writer, I was a writer who happened to be Black. I began submitting the story for possible representation/publication – but know one wanted it. And I know it’s not because it’s not engaging or poorly written – no one wanted to touch it because I am Black and the characters are white. Apparently, from what I’ve been told by some insiders – marketing/publicity feel that white readers want to read stories by people who look like them. Especially stories that embody characters that look like them. So I guess the long and short of it is that I have discovered that I am a WRITER and the parts of which have grown are the parts that resist ignorance and marginalization. The part of me that has disappeared is the part that allowed others to determine by whom my work would be read.
What themes do you find yourself constantly drawn to- why?
I write about women. I guess I am drawn to their stories because I come from a family of women. Strong, fighting, cussing, supremely intelligent women who live their lives on their terms. I’m enamored with them and I am also keenly aware of the sacrifices they made for the generations that were coming up behind them. And so I pay homage to them the best way I know how – I write their stories.
Out of all of your books, which one was the most emotional to write- why?
Loving Donovan was a fictional account of one of my relationships. It was difficult to put so much of myself out there for all the world to read, but it was also cathartic. It was the longest love letter I’d ever written.
What is your writing mission statement as author Bernice McFadden?
To continue to providing stories that educate and entertain. To continue to breathe life back into memory.
What’s going on in your literary world these days? Any great news to share?
My long awaited seventh novel GLORIOUS will be published in May 2010 by Akashic Books, and I am sending out a weekly newsletter that profiles under-publicized African-American authors.
“The seeming inevitability of cruel fate juxtaposes the triumph of the spirit in this remarkably rich and powerful novel, Glorious. Bernice McFadden’s fully realized characters are complicated, imperfect beings, but if ever a character were worthy of love and honor, it is her Easter Bartlett. This very American story is fascinating; it is also heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and beautifully written.”—Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of The Scenic Route
“Riveting. . . . I am as impressed by its structural strength as by the searing and expertly imagined scenes.”—Toni Morrison, on The Warmest December
Glorious is set against the backdrops of the Jim Crow South, the Harlem Renaissance, and the civil rights era. Blending the truth of American history with the fruits of Bernice L. McFadden’s rich imagination, this is the story of Easter Venetta Bartlett, a fictional Harlem Renaissance writer whose tumultuous path to success, ruin, and revival offers a candid portrait of the American experience in all its beauty and cruelty.
Glorious is ultimately an audacious exploration into the nature of self-hatred, love, possession, ego, betrayal, and, finally, redemption.